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A City to Love

Photos: Auckland harbour by Tero Hakala/Shutterstock and Seattle waterfront by Don Fink/Shutterstock

This is a love story—a story about a city and region remaking itself with the goal of being a place that its citizens will love, a story about a dialog between a city and the people who live there. A powerful story to learn from, it describes a city committed to creating the most livable place in the world for all its residents.

Auckland, New Zealand, is a lot like Seattle. It is in a temperate climatic zone and defined by its relationship to water and topography. Auckland’s age, size, urban form, and relationship to adjacent communities are also similar to Seattle’s. Beyond Auckland’s city center, clearly defined neighborhoods with small-scale commercial districts are surrounded by well-scaled multifamily and single family housing as in the Northwest. Auckland’s diversity of transit modes—train, light rail, bus, and ferry—is also similar, and it too is car centric and striving to wean itself off auto dependency. While New Zealand is a commonwealth with a stronger tradition of top-down planning than the US, the political climate in Auckland is very similar to ours. And like Seattle, Auckland is experiencing rapid growth, creating pressures on transportation systems, housing supply, public amenities, and livability.

Auckland pedestrian path

Te Ara I Whiti, a freeway off ramp repurposed as bike/pedestrian path.

To address these stresses, since 2007 Auckland has been charting a new course for itself, streamlining its governmental structure to improve integration and efficiency at a regional scale; developing inspirational plans to transform the urban fabric and create personal connections between residents and their city; and coordinating cost-effective district-scale streetscape improvements to enhance the pedestrian experience, safety, transportation options, and neighborhood character. These and other accomplishments illustrate that Auckland is an exemplar with lessons to share with Seattle.

Auckland waterfront

A waterfront for everyone in downtown Auckland.

From Seattle to Auckland

In late 2015, as affiliate fellows of the Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies at the University of Washington’s College of Built Environments, we identified a research project under the broad rubric of sustainability. After our evaluation process pointed to Auckland as a subject, we traveled there in March 2016 with the generous assistance of the Runstad Center Affiliate Fellows Program to study the city’s methods and accomplishments.

The visit provided our group of college faculty, students, and leaders from Seattle’s environmental design community with a long week of intensive work and conversations running late into the nights. Our daily schedule was filled with meetings and walking tours with leaders from city departments, representatives from city council, leading architecture and planning firms, innovative private developers and development agencies, urbanists and neighborhood activists. Our hosts in Auckland were incredibly generous with their time and expertise, and we found a consistent shared vision and approach to proactively taking the future of the region in hand.

Over the last year, we have shared our research, observations, findings, and lessons learned a dozen times with public agencies, professional organizations and civic groups. We’ve been impressed by the degree to which the story resonates and the expressed appetite for an integrated, proactive approach. Hard questions have led to more research, and we continue to be impressed by Auckland’s ambitions and their pursuit of a city to love. We believe this is a powerful example that is deeply relevant to our current circumstances. Auckland’s strategy is comprehensive, integrated, and visionary—and it works. The question to the Northwest is, in this period of remarkable and rich growth, can we take our destiny in hand?

In the following ARCADE feature, we present Auckland’s innovative approaches to governance structure, visioning process, and control of the public right-of-way. This is followed by case studies illustrating its approaches to transportation, public/private development partnerships and urban design. Auckland is a remarkable touchstone, as our observations show.

Auckland laneway

Part of Auckland's network of laneways and shared spaces.

Choosing Auckland

Early conversations in our search for a study topic focused on the public right-of-way (broadly speaking, the public spaces—streets, sidewalks, and associated areas—that make up the city’s street-scape) and its role in enhancing the quality of life in cities as they grow denser. This is an essential topic—and a transformational opportunity—for Seattle and cities throughout the Pacific Northwest given their growth and the anxiety about sustained quality of life.

The public right-of-way occupies nearly a third of all land in Auckland and Seattle, and a good portion of this is used to store private property: parked cars. Through the remaining space people, vehicles, and resources move from point A to B. However, this space must serve as a place for people.

We evaluated cities that were transforming the right-of-way and public realm through innovations in governance and design, both of which we felt deserved attention, to identify a city that offered compelling lessons relevant to Seattle. We systematically analyzed 15 cities using eight characteristics to avoid preconceptions and settled on Auckland.

Once in Auckland, we realized that the right-of-way was only a small element of the city’s stunningly successful interdisciplinary place-making approach. But it was enough to indicate Aucklanders’ mastery of the subject and the benefit of learning from them.


Auckland’s Vision: Building a Design-Led City

By Rick Mohler

Auckland waterfront swimming

Swimming on the downtown waterfront. 

Auckland’s vision is to be the world’s most livable city. This audacious goal, first proclaimed by Mayor Len Brown in 2012, once seemed out of reach given Auckland’s notorious reputation as “the city of cars” (Auckland has among the highest number of cars per capita of any city) and what New Zealand planners call the “Auckland disease,” a mix of short-term thinking and parochial disagreement. Yet great strides have been made in a remarkably brief time to transform Auckland into a design-led city taking hold of its destiny. The city has done so with a creative and coordinated effort consisting of rigorous research, visionary plans, public outreach, post-occupancy assessment, and a willingness to take risks. This has yielded increased economic revenue and transit ridership, an enhanced public realm, and a fundamental shift in the way Aucklanders view themselves and their city.

The New Zealand Urban Design Protocol

Before Auckland set out to become a paradigm of livability, the 2005 New Zealand Urban Design Protocol laid the foundation for the city’s transformation. This national government document outlines a “sustainable development program of action” in response to the rapid growth of New Zealand’s urban areas and the mandate to grow more compactly. The protocol identifies seven essential qualities of great urban design: context, character, choice, connections, creativity, custodianship, and collaboration.

The protocol established a set of values for urban planning in New Zealand, including the importance of a shared vision, the need for transparent monitoring and reporting on plan implementation as works progress, and the need for design champions to inspire and educate the citizenry about the value of a design-led city-building process. The protocol also identified the need for stronger urban design education at the university level and for the academy to work in collaboration with public and private partners. 

In addition to issuing the protocol, New Zealand’s national government provided several companion resources to help local planning offices apply it. The Urban Design Case Studies include practical examples of urban design. An Urban Design Toolkit provides a compendium of tools and mechanisms to foster great cities. The document Urban Design Research covers current knowledge on urban design and environments. Most impressively, the Value Case report illustrates the link between quality urban design and environmental, social, cultural, and economic value; it shows that while a miniscule portion of a project’s life-cycle cost is devoted to design, the benefits of good design are enormous. This fundamentally shifts design’s role from an add-on to an essential tool for creating value.

Auckland path

Downtown walkway and stormwater reuse.

The Auckland Plan

Building upon the Urban Design Protocol, the Auckland Plan was released in 2012 to guide Auckland’s future over the following 30 years. Inspired by best practices in cities such as Melbourne, New York, Vancouver, Barcelona, Bilbao, and London, the plan was developed in partnership with government, business, indigenous Maori tribes, nongovernment organizations, and more than 15,000 Aucklanders. The plan is an incredibly comprehensive and integrated document covering everything from transportation and land use to economic development, job growth, education, housing, and social conditions. 

More impressive is the plan’s unique aspirational, inspirational, and transformational tone. This is best represented by the section covering its City Centre Masterplan, which received 95% public approval and won the New Zealand Institute of Architecture Supreme Urban Design Award. The document is exemplary in its organizational clarity and use of compelling language, imaginative and inspirational themes, and evocative imagery. Complex data, conditions, and urban design principles are described through diagrams and bullet points that are easily understood by city officials, professionals, and the citizenry at large.

The document calls for “Transformational Moves” in the city centre, not merely strategies for improvement. A city edge connection is referred to as the “East-West Stitch,” the central business district is the “Engine Room,” and the university district is the “Innovation Cradle.” In one section of the plan, the city asks its citizenry a simple question: Do you love me? This bold, simple statement makes the relationship between citizen and city personal. It shifts attention away from individual stakeholders and special interest groups by positioning the city as an animate being and establishing a direct relationship between city design and collective experience. Auckland officials understand the need to convey complex information and they do so brilliantly. They also recognize that a city’s citizenry needs to be engaged on an emotional level. This is what a plan should do.

Bringing the Vision to Life

In addition to providing clear and compelling planning documents, the city of Auckland combines the Auckland Plan with an ongoing, carefully choreographed program of advocacy and education to encourage public engagement. This includes the “Auckland Conversations,” a program with events and online content exploring international best practices for transportation, climate change, housing, urban design, and more.

Cultivating community interest in good urban design helps Auckland’s mayor and city council set the vision for the city with citizen support. To implement plans, the city recruits and empowers extraordinary leaders at multiple levels to bolster and advance its ambitious goals for a livable future with consistent funding over sustained periods. In researching Auckland, we spent time with leaders from agencies as diverse as transportation, public development, urban design, and water management. All spoke a common language of place and design. Regardless of their disciplinary background and affiliation they clearly understand that their primary responsibility is to create places that Aucklanders will love. Equally impressive are their consistently passionate and outspoken views regarding their mission, which has been supported and empowered over multiple mayoral administrations.

One outcome of this design-led city approach is the dissolving of disciplinary silos and political divides. Auckland has adopted an integrated approach that is driven first by a shared understanding of place making and design. Auckland’s ambitious and transformative vision, supported by extraordinary plans, design champions, and choreographed public outreach, is one that the Pacific Northwest region can learn from. 

Auckland city masterplan

Page from the City Centre Masterplan 2012. Courtesy of Auckland Council

Our Take on Auckland’s Strategy

A design-led city:

•  Recognizes design’s power to bridge professional and political divides and unleash creativity.

•  Empowers and excites everyone!

•  Uses and pushes beyond best practices.

•  Enables collaboration, including between the private and public sectors.

•  Challenges preconceptions and resistance to change with data, monitoring, and benchmarking—and always shares publicly and between agencies.

•  Recognizes and celebrates cultural difference as a community value.

•  Builds adaptability and resilience to foster positive change.

•  Embraces context and sense of place with the smart use of standards.


Governance and the Super City: Auckland’s Political Transformation

By Barbara Swift

Auckland Transport

An Auckland Transport representative explains AT's proposed light rail expansion.

On November 1, 2010, the largest and most complex amalgamation of local and regional governments in New Zealand occurred with the formation of the Auckland Council. Eight local government authorities became the council governing the Auckland “super city” of 272,530 acres. In comparison, the King County Urban Growth Area contains 294,400 acres and 37 cities.

Why is this important? Rather than react to rapid geopolitical and economic change and an ineffective, complex bureaucracy with Band-Aid solutions, Auckland and New Zealand took the future in hand with diligence and lightning speed, establishing an entirely new governmental structure for the region. Auckland was the heart of the national economy, with 35% of national GDP in the 1980s and 33% of the national population by 2011, and it was an established international economic node. To grow and compete, Auckland’s government needed to focus energy on forward movement instead of local squabbling within a layered bureaucracy.

Changes began in 2007, when the national government established the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance to develop recommendations for governmental restructuring. Delivery of findings in March 2009 followed extensive public participation, including over 3,500 written submissions and testimony from over 550 individuals. The process built a consensus for proposed reforms: a mayor would be elected at large, with Auckland Council members elected on a ward basis. The Council would provide integrated citywide services and focus on regional policies and projects. Ward boards would have decision-making power over nonregulatory matters and responsibility for “place making” activities such as physical improvements and community engagement. Auckland Council would be the city government as a whole.

The Council would deliver basic services through an innovative network of seven Council-controlled, quasi-private corporations that are more typically used to manage focused business functions:

•  Auckland Council Investments Ltd. would manage investments including the Port of Auckland Ltd. and a share of the international airport.

•  Auckland Transport would be responsible for all transport except state highways.

•  Watercare Services Ltd. would be responsible for water and wastewater.

•  Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development Ltd. would coordinate events and economic development.

•  Auckland Council Property Ltd. would manage and advise on the Council’s nonessential services and provide strategic advice on the Council property portfolio.

•  Auckland Waterfront Development Agency would be responsible for leading the development of Auckland’s waterfront.

•  Regional Facilities Auckland would manage arts, cultural, and recreational facilities.

Additionally, the new Independent Māori Statutory Board would provide advice on cultural, economic, environmental, and social issues significant for the Māori community and statutory provisions referencing the Treaty of Waitangi. (The Auckland Council Property Ltd. and Auckland Waterfront Development Agency were subsequently consolidated into Panuku Development Auckland.)

In May 2009, the government tasked the Auckland Transition Agency with establishing the proposed Auckland Council, an extraordinary undertaking completed by the October 2010 election. This process was not without controversy, and pre-election debate focused on a variety of contentious issues—loss of local control and voice, accountability, rural areas’ fears of “being swallowed up” or ignored, ward size, population distribution, Council controlled corporations, and unelected Māori participation. But in the end, “day one” for the super city was November 1, 2010.

This streamlined government structure integrates efforts to enhance economics, livability, sustainability strategies, and growth management, saving $66 million NZD annually. This allows for coordinated, cost-effective service delivery by removing redundant efforts and helps implement a shared vision for the region. One example: land use planning was previously divided between the regional council and territorial authorities, hampering coordinated growth management, infrastructure development, environmental stewardship and other aspects of livability in a rapidly growing area.

Amalgamation is a risky experiment that requires constant work. A monitoring system is in place, and the government is remarkably transparent, with a robust and user-friendly website, consistent communication, clear planning documents, ongoing public education and debate, a process for gathering feedback, and rigorous evaluation of results. The implementation of consistent feedback loops is essential to success and building a foundation of trust. When asked how it is working, the response has generally been positive, and voters in the 2016 election stayed the course.

Effective governance has enabled Auckland to transform itself in an astoundingly short time. Government streamlining has allowed the development of a strong service delivery system and efforts to resolve cultural issues related to increased density and implementation of a vision for the city. This is a story to learn from.


Streets for People: The Benefits of Public Control

By Joe David

Auckland Laneway

Early morning laneway in Auckland.

Sidewalks, roadways, alleys, corners, and parks all serve as a background for the daily events contributing to a city’s identity. For this reason, it is essential that the design and implementation of these spaces are responsibly managed. How improvements to the public right-of-way—the public space of a city’s streetscape—are financed, designed, implemented, and maintained impacts the physical condition of these areas, the sense of place they provide, and the quality of experience and livability for all. Cities handle this in various ways, with different outcomes.

In Seattle, most improvements to the pedestrian right-of-way are the responsibility of the private sector, and these updates are typically linked to individual construction projects as they arise. For instance, when a property owner constructs a new building or improves an existing structure beyond a “substantial alteration,” the City requires that they also hire professionals to design and construct the street frontage adjacent to their property and pay for associated utility infrastructure modifications.

While this arrangement provides a funding source for public right-of-way improvements, it is tied to economic cycles and yields a number of unintended impacts on the walkability and continuity of the streetscapes that define a city’s character. Anyone navigating Seattle’s urban core experiences a patchwork of disparate street conditions that change with nearly every passing address. Property owners install paving details, trash receptacles, bike racks, street trees, and signage to fulfill a minimum set of guidelines, but these features vary wildly in age, quality, and implementation. In this way, private property lines are telegraphed into the right-of-way, yielding a public realm without a cohesive sense of place. These spaces lack a clear hierarchy of scale, program, and service that would exist if the right-of-way were designed and implemented as a single continuous system.

Seattle street

Seattle at 1st and Virginia.

Auckland does things differently. In the past the city employed a funding strategy similar to Seattle’s for its improvements to the right-of-way, or road reserve, as they call it. But it abandoned the approach in the 1980s when their downtown began to lack cohesion and identity, becoming a “dog’s breakfast,” as one Auckland official put it. Now Auckland takes road reserve improvements out of the hands of private landowners, providing the city with more design oversight and control. When a new building is constructed, the owner is obligated to repair any damage to the road reserve but not totally redevelop it. Changes are handled by the Auckland Design Office and Auckland Transport instead, which strategically identify district-scale projects that contribute to the City Centre Masterplan or other initiatives, and they use general tax funds for road reserve design, construction, and maintenance. The city has also empowered many of its other agencies, including its public development authority, Panuku, to design, fund, build, and manage large sections of the road reserve.

In Auckland, giving the city more control of the road reserve enables it to create fully integrated design action-plans that can effect fundamental change. A recent example is the Te Ara Mua Future Streets project that involves changes to roads, pedestrian paths, and cycling connections within Auckland’s Māngere Central district to make walking and biking easier and safer. Of Auckland’s 275 neighborhoods, this community, home to an underserved population, has the fourth highest number of traffic accidents involving pedestrians. Auckland Council realizes that improving pedestrian safety and livability in this neighborhood is an important social equity issue. The primary objective of this road reserve improvement is to eliminate safety problems, including life-threatening hazards affecting children, but the Future Streets project also has a broader vision. The project transforms the urban environment through changes to local roads and connections throughout the Māngere Central district to provide better pedestrian and cycling infrastructure and enhances the neighborhood’s character and identity. This will increase safety while promoting health, recreation, and social benefits at a neighborhood level. Funding for the project was supported by metrics demonstrating that the reduction in accidents would yield a social cost savings of $18 million to $25 million NZD over a 10-year period, a good example of using data to make the argument for funding and positive change. The project is slated for completion this year.

Imagine how Seattle could be improved if we chose to think about pedestrian experience and movement at the same multi-block scale that we use for vehicle corridors. Imagine a downtown with the same district-level identity that is experienced at Pike Place Market. This begins to approach Auckland’s success with the road reserve. The result is a cohesive and generous public place provided for all.


The Auckland Design Office: A Powerhouse for People, Place, and Design

By Barbara Swift

ADO team

The ADO team on the job.

The Auckland Design Office (ADO) is an essential tool driving the design-led vision for Auckland. It embeds design thinking into the DNA of the city, unleashing action to build a place that Aucklanders will love. In today’s Auckland it seems natural that such an agency would exist, but how did it come about and what has it meant for the city?

The ADO is an outgrowth of national and city leadership that values putting people and design first. In 2005 the New Zealand Ministry for the Environment established the Urban Design Protocol, which identified the long-term economic importance of a quality urban experience for a predominantly urban nation. This strategy promoted resilience, good planning, and economic vitality by creating quality, urban environments that are recognized internationally, allowing New Zealand to compete on the world stage.

The protocol focuses on making successful places that work for people and recognizes that quality urban design takes the long view. It builds on context and results in a spatial organization that optimizes a constantly evolving, interlocked system of relationships involving place, people, culture, environment, and economics. The initiative was funded to support local action. That same year, the Auckland Mayoral Task Force on Urban Design developed “Designing Auckland: A Springboard for Action,” a brilliant strategy to accelerate the creation of a design-led city. This strategy ended the laissez-faire approach toward design and positioned Auckland for transformation. The poorly functioning and uninspiring urban environment would no longer compromise Auckland as the national economic engine.

The role of urban design increased with the 2010 amalgamation, which created today’s Auckland from a collection of smaller jurisdictions and facilitated more coordinated governance. This led to the expansion of the city’s Built Environment Unit and the creation of a separate department—the ADO. It is now a multidisciplinary team of over 30 exceptionally talented design professionals. Leadership rests with the “design champion,” Ludo Campbell-Reid, who is responsible for relentlessly driving the design agenda at all levels. This includes the visioning, planning, design, implementation, and programing of the city.

Auckland Council’s understanding that good design is good economics is reflected in all the city’s work but particularly in that of the ADO. Its activities touch both public and private sectors, and its message is that this benefits everyone. This is essential to understand when considering the ADO’s accomplishments, which have been rapid and remarkable as the following list shows.

A Vision for the City

The ADO is responsible for the 2012 City Centre Masterplan and its implementation. This 20-year vision document contains all the data and tools needed to carry out the plan but also speaks to the heart with powerful, evocative language. It addresses a full spectrum of places for people, an expansive transit system, and further commitment to unlocking the waterfront. It also establishes a stable funding strategy spanning election cycles by using private development to generate long-term revenue. The plan is clear, compelling, and inspiring, and provides a practical, visionary approach that gets results.

Wynyard Quarter

Wynyard Quarter midafternoon.

Waterfront Access

The Wynyard Quarter waterfront, previously an industrial area off-limits to Aucklanders, is now central to the city’s identity. This vibrant public realm is humane and beautifully designed—communicating through activities, materials, and details that citizens are valued and urban life is a source of joy (see "Revitalizing Wynyard Quarter" below for more information).

Shared Spaces

The city understands that Aucklanders are the focus. The creation of “shared spaces” in a city centre 5.5-kilometer laneway loop has significantly improved the quality of urban life. To promote behavioral change, designers have removed conventional street elements such as curbs, signs, and markings from these reconfigured streets and alleys. And this creation of ambiguity between pedestrian and vehicular spaces has worked, forcing pedestrians and drivers to interact, prioritizing those on foot, increasing caution, and enhancing safety. Auckland took a risk and made a big move, and it has paid off. The 30-year design life of the laneway project illustrates the city’s commitment as does the quiet and timeless design, beautiful materials, exquisite detailing, and provisions for ongoing care and management.

Initial resistance has been replaced with enthusiastic support and pressure to implement faster. Central to building support has been rigorous postconstruction evaluation, documenting growth in land value and retail sales, a lack of injuries from vehicle crashes, and huge increases in the number of pedestrians.

Public Realm Innovations

Auckland takes an innovative and practical approach to city stewardship. Theater professionals are responsible for programming the city’s public realm: A parking lot became a “pop-up Globe Theatre” wrapped in Tyvek. A defunct freeway off-ramp was transformed into a shared cycling and pedestrian path, and its hot pink surface, reputedly visible from outer space, is a source of identity. If an idea doesn’t work, it is evaluated, redesigned, and evaluated again. The city understands that you must relentlessly steward, care for, and support public life.

City Building Lessons

A design-led strategy requires an educated community. To that end, the Auckland Conversations—a series of live streams, in-person events, and online videos started in 2007—has brought international experts to speak on topics including transportation, climate change, housing, and urban design. With over 90,000 attendees, this program has made good on its goals of creating a paradigm shift in thinking, a shared language, and behavioral change at the metropolitan scale by helping to create a sophisticated community conversant in the fine points of building a city to love.


Laneway Financials—Making It Happen

By Ben Broesamle

Laneway detail

A downtown laneway and superb detailing.

The implementation of Auckland’s laneway loop is funded by a “targeted rate,” or taxing district overlay, on property in the city centre, similar to capital improvement funding through local improvement districts. The result is $10 million annually. (Maintenance is funded by regular property taxes.) However, in one case, property owner SkyCity contributed funds directly to prioritize the improvements at its Federal Street location. The result is about three blocks of laneway that are temporarily separated from the rest of the network.

Laneway construction costs are $118 US per square foot, only $23 per square foot more than the cost of constructing an asphalt road bed in Seattle. The additional cost covers features including a below grade utilidor (utility tunnel), a subgrade concrete slab, stone paving, trench drains, remarkable detailing, furnishings, and lighting.

In all, the laneway improvements provide a great return on investment over their 30-year design life and other documented benefits: the ADO’s post-construction evaluation of laneway improvements has shown that there was a 25% increase in pedestrian use, directly correlated to a 25% increase in retail sales and a 4.5% increase in property values.


Revitalizing Wynyard Quarter: Value Creation Through Successful Public Space

By Ben Broesamle and Genevieve Hale-Case

Wynyard Quarter Auckland

Silo Cinema at Silo Park in Wynyard Quarter. Photo courtesy of Auckland Council

The value that Auckland places on livability and place making is particularly apparent in the work of Panuku, a public agency setting the tone for new development in the city.

Panuku is a Council-controlled corporation much like the quasi-governmental public development agencies (PDAs), we have here in Seattle that manage the Pike Place Market and International District. Unlike Seattle, where PDAs have been useful in gaining public support to preserve our cherished places, Auckland has used this tool to leverage thoughtful development throughout the city. Panuku is charged with buying, selling and managing all of the land owned by Auckland Council. In doing so, Panuku takes on both community development and asset management roles for the Council, acting as “master developer” in strategic partnerships with private developers and public and nonprofit organizations to deliver projects.  The three simple, clear pillars of Panuku’s mission are: Transform through urban regeneration; unlock development potential for investors, and support value creation through economic development and intensification.

Wynyard Quarter

Panuku’s current and largest project is the redevelopment of a 91-acre site on Auckland’s downtown waterfront called Wynyard Quarter. Panuku’s charge is to transform the area from a formerly off-limits and relatively unknown part of the city into a vibrant new residential community. Panuku recruited some of the world’s best and brightest in the arena of public–private partnerships to work on it. Through Panuku, Auckland Council contributed the site and $167 million NZD in direct funding for public realm infrastructure and improvements, and $83 million in national debt were received from the national government to put towards the project. Panuku retains permanent ownership of the land for the Auckland Council, while ground-leasing individual development sites to private developers.

Cultural Programming as Design

Panuku uses cultural programming as a strategic tool to create value, place, and public identity in Wynyard Quarter. Before any shovels were in the ground, Panuku provided programming for the site, working hard to redefine and create a public realm Aucklanders would know and love before neighborhood development took place. Frith Walker, Panuku’s manager of place making, spearheaded this effort. With a background in theater, Frith was able to carefully stage a series of temporary public amenities throughout Wynyard Quarter’s public spaces and watch the way that Aucklanders interacted with them. These amenities were everything from pianos to garden plots to pop-up markets to games printed onto squares of AstroTurf. If the public seemed disinterested in a particular amenity, it was altered or replaced.

With Wynyard Quarter, Panuku has done an exceptional job of incorporating some of the existing industrial infrastructure into their place-making efforts. Large concrete water towers have been transformed into an outdoor movie theater, and the formerly industrial waterfront is being opened up to allow access and places for children to play. In this way, the history of the area’s place is integrated and repurposed into the future, keeping an authentic context alive within its transformation.

Wynyard timeline

Financial Structure and Success

An appropriate financial structure is pivotal to any development effort’s sustained success, and Wynyard Quarter is a clear case study. As an agency ultimately responsible for creating value in Auckland’s public assets, Panuku makes no apologies for the fact that all of their place-making initiatives in Wynyard Quarter are fundamentally done in an effort to attract private investment to the area. They have been extremely successful in doing so. Panuku has created and will continue to control investments in Wynyard Quarter, starting with the initial investments by developers and continuing as future capital investments are made, cultivating a virtuous cycle of improvement of the formerly industrial waterfront. Panuku’s team for Wynyard Quarter focused on one aspect of redevelopment that the public sector in the US often neglects: branding. With remarkable business savvy, Panuku set a goal to be the “Apple” of public development authorities, with Wynyard Quarter as its “iPhone”—its primary product that everyone would want.

Auckland Savings Bank relocated its headquarters to Wynyard Quarter before any other private investment in the area had been committed. They did so with great faith in Panuku’s ability to deliver a desirable and vibrant place. Wynyard Quarter is now being transformed into a livable, family-oriented community with apartments, shopping, a new home for the Auckland Theatre Company, and a luxury hotel. Panuku is even working to bring a school to Wynyard Quarter, demonstrating a clear understanding of what it takes to build a resilient city.

In Wynyard Quarter, office, hotel, and mixed-use multifamily residential and retail developers each sign 120-year ground leases requiring that they pay all expenses for property development in addition to their lease payments to Panuku. The amount of these lease payments is based on valuation of the land at multiple points in time throughout the development process, as well as at intervals throughout the term of the lease. In total, Panuku has unlocked an estimated $1 billion in net new land value with increased economic productivity from the properties in Wynyard Quarter. The value of the potential revenues from the development of Wynyard Quarter will accrue to Auckland Council and the tax-paying public. These revenues support Panuku’s work in the short term and Auckland Council’s budget in the long-term. The activity of thriving places goes hand-in-hand with financial success. The financial reality of Wynyard Quarter is a successful, well-designed place that will help create a self-reinforcing cycle of investment.

Each of the developers and future lessees of individual parcels agrees to pay into a community fund that supports the public realm of Wynyard Quarter. This fund costs each of the private sector investors about $0.12 USD per parcel square foot per year. The funds are never deposited in the Auckland Council general fund, but remain in a separate budget directly tied to the Wynyard Quarter. The budget is used for maintenance, programming, and continued improvements to the public realm for Wynyard Quarter.

Panuku is a public agency that is run with professionalism and efficiency. But more importantly, this profit-driven agency has prioritized place, design excellence, and action and has astutely connected lovability with livability. Their efforts have attracted both people and capital to transform an industrial waterfront into a new neighborhood.


Auckland Transport: One Agency, All Transportation, Integrated Mobility

By Amy Hartman

Auckland super block

Super blocks give way to transit area development, housing, shared spaces, and stormwater collection.

Auckland’s success in reducing car dependency offers lessons for other regions, including the Seattle area. While Auckland’s use of public transportation still lags behind that of denser formerly auto-dependent cities, its growth has been remarkably strong over the past 10 years. Regional public transit ridership has grown by 5 to 10 percent annually, with rail ridership increasing fivefold since 2005 according to the Greater Auckland transportation blog. Much of this success can be attributed to the organization and culture of the city’s transportation agency, Auckland Transport.

Transportation Is Managed as an Integrated Regional System

Auckland Transport, the Council-controlled organization responsible for mobility planning and operations, was established as part of the Auckland region’s amalgamation into one super city in 2010. This gave Auckland Transport jurisdiction over the mobility needs of the entire Auckland region. This includes everything from the rail, bus, ferry, and road networks, to pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, to parking policies. Auckland Transport is responsible for the planning and management of all transportation other than state highways. In contrast, the Seattle area has over 30 agencies responsible for at least one facet or mode of our region’s transportation. For example, Seattle’s bus, rail, and streetcar systems are controlled by three different agencies under separate jurisdictions: King County Metro, Sound Transit, and the Seattle Department of Transportation, respectively.

As a result, Auckland is able to more easily deliver integrated solutions to transportation issues. For example, new mass transportation stations are planned concurrently with improvements to other aspects of the transportation system. When the city creates a new transit station, they also build pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, connect the station to the bus network, and reduce the number of nearby parking spaces. Around the station, super blocks are subdivided and traffic calming is practiced on adjacent streets. Each portion of the transportation network complements rather than competes with the other, and this provides Aucklanders with multiple integrated mobility options.

Auckland Britomart

Britomart Station.

Design Spurs Patronage

Transportation planners in Auckland make no secret of the fact that providing quality infrastructure is part of their strategy for promoting its use. As Darren Davis, a senior transport planner at Auckland Transport, put it, “We want public transit riders to feel like first-class citizens.” The beautiful design of Auckland’s public transit stations, sidewalks, cycle paths, and other public infrastructure accomplishes this by showing that the government values the users of these systems. In turn, this also lessens the stereotype that public transportation, biking, and walking are only for people unable to drive. Auckland’s transportation infrastructure is also well designed from a functional perspective: stations are well lit, protected from the elements, include restrooms, and are furnished with comfortable seating. These humane gestures communicate thoughtful understanding, showing citizens they are valued. Creativity also enhances functionality. For example, Auckland’s New Lynn Transport Interchange provides not only covered bicycle parking and restrooms but shopping-cart parking as well, making it easier for riders to grocery shop on the way home from work.

Strive to Serve People Rather than Drivers

“People are the economic powerhouse of a city, not the car,” says Ludo Campbell-Reid, Auckland’s design champion (his official title). Nowhere is this distinction more important than in the way a city approaches transportation planning. A significant factor in Auckland Transport’s success is that transportation planners focus on serving the mobility needs of people generally rather than just drivers. This is due to both the emphasis on people-centered planning from city leaders and the enthusiasm for transportation options other than cars among Auckland Transport planners. Many planners are not only regular bikers, walkers, and public-transit riders, but they see themselves as advocates for those who use these modes of transportation. Many contribute to platforms that discuss public transit, such as the Greater Auckland blog.

The lessons from Auckland are simple. Design and manage a region’s transportation infrastructure as an integrated system. Plan and design for mobility, not modes of transportation. Communicate that users are valued and trusted. This is smart and shows returns with rapid adoption of public transit and fewer drivers on the road.


Be Bold, Transparent, Relentless: Takeaway Lessons from Auckland

By the 2015–2016 Runstad Affiliate Fellows

Auckland laneway

Laneways allow people to be the focus of the city.

Over the course of our fellowship, the political landscape in our country has shifted dramatically. Emerging federal policies view cities and climate change as irrelevant to long-term resilience, civil life, joy, and economic health. But we in the Northwest have taken a strong stance against these policies, galvanizing our commitment to shared values and action. We can use these trying times to articulate what we value and act on it. There is a silver lining in this turmoil: we are no longer fighting amongst ourselves but collectively fighting against something larger—for a glorious place to live and a resilient region, to create a Seattle that we all love. The Auckland story is one of relevant strategies linking design, place, and long-term resilience with economic vitality and vibrant urban life. It demonstrates that love is a valid planning construct and it demands action!

What can be learned from this? Here are some lessons:

•  Require transparent, consistent leadership, and set the bar high.

•  Build a shared vision. Shift the “we can’t” myth toward one of action, optimism, and smart risk taking.

•  Emotionally connect the city and citizenry—love is a planning construct.

•  Have a vision that design matters for everyone and that everyone is a first-class citizen.

•  To create a city to love, educate everyone and engage them in the collective effort of a design-led agenda.

•  Recruit and hire design champions who work relentlessly as change agents.

•  Tie design excellence to good economics.

•  Commit to the long game with stable financial support.

•  Challenge, take smart risks, evaluate, benchmark, share your findings, and create feedback loops to build trust.

•  Activate and steward the city to create and sustain places where people want to be.

•  As emblazoned on the Auckland City seal … ADVANCE!


All photos courtesy the 2015–2016 Runstad Affiliate Fellows unless otherwise noted.